Tuesday, August 18, 2009

The Goodbye Post

I’m writing this post from the Swiss Alps, which are not like Togo. Due to a baggage mishap, I arrived in Switzerland two days early. Morocco will have to wait until I have more time and maybe more money.

I can’t remember if I promised photos or not, but here they are anyway, some photos from all my Togo goodbyes, as well as a list I started about nine months before I could seriously begin thinking about leaving.

Things I Will Miss About Togo:

Entering Sagbiebou ("Gando Carrefour") from the south

1. My village - visiting and staying in my house after eight months of Lomé living brought out the nostalgia. I had to remind myself of heat rash, waiting for hours for meetings to start and sweaty hot season nights. Still, I had a good cement house (compared to some volunteers' village homes, it was big), a decent landlord, friendly neighbors and a beautiful night sky under which to take bucket baths.

Maimouna and Abdou-Razak in my compound yard.

Alima, Djibou, Izaifot and Hanatou

2. Friends - both in village and among the volunteer community. Maimouna and Zaratou randomly befriended me, and besides my neighbor, they are the women I loved most in Sagbiebou. When Maimouna was pregnant, she told me when she went into labor, she was going to make me come to the hospital with her. Then I moved away and could only get a phone call after from Zaratou's husband. But here is Abdou-Razak, and he is just a cute little monster. Also, my neighbors, Alima, Djibou and the girls, Izaifot and Hanatou, shared the strangeness of a Togolese village with me (they’re from Niger), took me to prayer on feast days and provided intelligent conversation about current events. But they cannot pronounce “Kentucky.”

Zaratou cutting up fresh wagash (cheese made by the nomadic Fulani people from cow's milk)

Zaratou and Maimouna with the fried wagash I was supposed to take to America for my family but ate in the car to Lomé instead

3. Street food - I will not miss the day-long trips up and down Togo, but I will miss the smorgasbord of random food pushed into the car window at stops along the highway. Boiled egg with hot pepper? Why, yes, I believe I will. Fried plantain chips? I’ll take two bags.

4. Cheap, fresh fruit - I know we get fresh fruit in the US. But where can I get a pineapple for 50 cents? And if this place exists, will the pineapple lady cut it up for me there and put it in a black plastic bag, “to go”? What about 50 cent mangoes the size of my head (ok, not my head, it’s bigger than average. The size of someone else’s head)? And cheap, huge avocadoes?

George, my host brother, Fridoline and Christine (neighbors) in Agou Nyogbo

5. Kids waving as you pass on your bike - make that kids in general, but especially the reaction of a group of children as you wave from your bike - all nine or however many hands shoot up and wave back. I'll also miss little neighborhood children running up and throwing themselves at my legs, shouting, "Liiinda! Liiinda!" or "Madame Awa!"

6. Ice cold soda on a hot savannah day - Beer's good too, but if I was having a freezing drink, I'd probably have biked to Mango, and there is nothing like a cold, cold Sprite after a 27 kilometer bike ride. And while we're on it, I'm going to miss my bike, and especially biking in the savannah.

7. Beach bar - Open-air bars line the first kilometer of road from the Ghanaian border leading to Lomé. A beer at a beach bar is a great way to re-enter Togo from Ghana or to spend a Sunday afternoon. Granted, vendors of all sorts of crap from sunglasses to stuffed animals will try to sell you said junk, but with the vendors comes the buffet of street food. And trash-filled though it may be, I will miss looking at the ocean over my beer.

Maimouna and Abdou Razak again, just because they're cute

So. There's my final, sentimental post for your enjoyment. I think it's better to leave the list of things I won't miss. When and if I get a new internet space, I'll send out that address, but at the risk of forever posting here things that will become totally unrelated to Togo, I'll try my best to make this my last post. Thanks to everyone who wrote me letters and emails, and thanks for reading.

Friday, August 14, 2009

All These Things I've Done (and didn't tell)

Now that I'm safely in Switzerland and out of Africa, I feel like I can share some of these close calls without jinxing myself or causing my parents sleepless nights. So here are four fun things that happened that I decided not to share until after leaving Togo:

1. Once in village, I fainted on my front porch. My neighbors had to lead me to the latrine and in my severely dehydrated state, I was convinced I had malaria and was going to die. But, I was just really dehydrated.

2. Shortly before I left village, I was walking around my house barefoot at dusk, about to leave for the market. As I stepped toward the door, I felt something under my foot and recoiled, thinking it was a very big cockroach. Instead, my flash light revealed a scorpion, which, after much hesitation and pep-talking, I killed with a running shoe.

3. My second night in Lomé, which was the first night I spent in the house after Christmas in Ghana, JT and two friends got held up at gunpoint at our gate at 3 a.m. No one was hurt, but they lost phones, an iPod and a camera. After that, we replaced the light above the door and had no more problems.

4. I got hit by a motorcycle biking home from work in February. He side-swiped me as I crossed into the left lane and I lost my balance and fell into the bushes planted on the median. I had one tiny scratch to show for it, unlike JT, who got hit by a car a few days later and had some nasty bruises.

And after all that and so many bush taxi rides up and down the country, I still made it. Whew.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Last post from Togo

Aaaand…. I thought about updating during the last two weeks, but I procrastinated and now it’s my last day in Togo as a Peace Corps volunteer. Actually, I’m not a volunteer anymore. I finished my close of service procedures and now I’m just an unemployed former volunteer (officially, a “returned Peace Corps volunteer”, or RPCV, but I haven’t returned yet).

Had I updated regularly, I would have given you better accounts of my farewell trips to Sagbiebou and Agou Nygobo, but now I’ll just say I went to both and said goodbye to my friends in village and my host family in Agou. I finished work at PSI on July 31st so that I could have ten days to travel and run around Lomé. I finished the traveling Wednesday night and have to finish the running around today.

This Saturday, we had a small goodbye party at the house. I decided to make samosas for the first time ever. They turned out really well, but they take a long time to prepare, so I spent half the party in the kitchen. A volunteer friend offered to roll sushi for me when I mentioned that I was going to serve sushi (veggie). He did sushi prep in a restaurant for a year, so the rolls were beautiful and much more professional than anything I would have served.

I feel like my last update in Togo should be more reflective than what I’m going to post today, but I’m exhausted from stress, dancing and my emotional roller coaster ride (from “Yay! I’m leaving! Cheese! And margaritas! Friends and family! No more ‘yovo, yovo’” to “I can’t believe I’m leaving. No more plantains and peanut sauce and street food. No more ‘yovo, yovo.’”). I’d like to write a few more updates, and there’s one I’ve been thinking of for a while that I can’t write until I leave. For now, fingers crossed for a safe flight. I’m spending three days in Morocco, then two weeks in Switzerland and then, finally, back to the States.

In my blogging (yeah, yeah, I know I don’t update enough to call myself a blogger) absence, here are some links to distract you from your work: a site for the Dapaong weavers that I created (in French only for the moment – please don’t click Google translate, it’s so bad. Just look at the pretty pictures).
Also, I posted the first Obama post at This Is Diversity. Someone from their site asked me to share my experiences in Togo there, but I only got around to contributing one article. Anyway, check it out, they have all kinds of interesting tid-bits there.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Obama Village: Not a Village

This Saturday, I biked about 30k north of Lomé to a sign I'd noticed pointing off the national highway to Obama Village. I've been wanting to go since March, to add to my photo collection of Obama things. I figured I'd find the village chief, ask him why they changed the name, what was the village called before, maybe have some local brew, and then head out again. I even bought bread, a standard gift, to present to him.

I arrived around 7:30 and pushed my bike down the path in the direction indicated, after taking the obligatory photo.

The first man I met couldn't tell me anything. The second one said there was no village, just farms. I asked if one was called Obama Village and he said something about one big farm, well, not that big, but...

The path to Obama Village.

Now, rather than imagining an interview with the village chief, I imagined talking to a farmer who'd named his farm Obama Village (and put the sign on the roadside). I followed the path past smaller turn-offs and one or two shuttered mud buildings. When the path ended in a cornfield, I turned around and followed the sound of voices. I found a hut, where I greeted a young woman and asked about Obama Village.

"It's that way," she said, pointing, "hold on."

She led me, still pushing my bike, down a path, two younger girls following us. They chattered behind us in Ewe*, and their conversation went something like this:

"Ewe ewe ewe ewe Obama Village. Ewe ewe ewe Obama Village ewe."

We passed a cluster of huts and picked up a man of about 20. I was disappointed that this hut cluster was not Obama Village. We continued, passing a woman in a field ("Obama Village!") and another attacking a young teak tree with her machete ("Ewe ewe Obama Village!"). We turned left and then right off the path, at which point I started wondering where they were leading me.

Fifty meters off the path, we came to a palm frond shelter where the young man, Yao, suggested I leave my bike, since the path was nonexistent. I did, and we continued another fifty meters to Obama Village.

That's it.

I asked who built it.

"The owner of this land."

"Does he live here?"

"No. He is in America."

"And the mason?"


We walked back, and when we arrived at my guide's home, I gave her the bread I'd bought for the chief of Obama Village.

"Thank you very much, Afi. You are the chief of Obama Village."

Yawa, Afi, my guide, Amelevie and Yao

I found out later from a Peace Corps employee that people are buying cheap land right now with the idea of building on it later. So in 10 years, maybe there will be an actual village to visit.

*Ewe is a local language spoken in southern Togo, Ghana and Benin. It's also an ethnicity. It's pronounced "eh-vay" and not like a female sheep.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Vacation photos

All the vacation photos can now be seen on Facebook, right here.

I also updated the last post on Obama after visiting an Obama barbershop in my neighborhood yesterday.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Obama in Ghana (and everywhere else)

President Obama arrives in Accra today, so it seems like an appropriate time to post my Obama photo collection. Since his election, I've noticed various businesses have adopted the name "Obama", so I started taking pictures. Here's what I have so far...

A building in Kodjoviakope, Lomé - I'm not sure if it's a hotel or just apartments. They completed construction since I've been here. In case you can't see the "Obama" here's a close up:

Cafeteria Obama in Dapaong

Obama hairdresser, also in Dapaong

A taxi driver in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso loves Obama, but forgot to spell check.

A sign in the Kokomlemle neighborhood of Accra, Ghana, advertises the Obama Inn, bar and restaurant.

Elom the barber and his barbershop in the Tokoin-Gbonvie neighborhood of Lomé.

Mr. Elom said he changed his barbershop's name eight or nine months ago. Before "Obama", he said he just wrote his own name. Why did he change it?

"Because I love him! I love him too much!"

A sign off the national highway points to Obama village, which is not a village.

Friday, July 3, 2009

Two More Cents on MJ

Because I can only assume that the American media isn't bombarding you with nothing but news on Michael Jackson's death, I just have to add more news from Togo. Actually, I only have this photo* I took of a business in Kodjoviakope, a neighborhood in Lomé

and this link to an article about Faure Gnassingbe's (Togo's president) statement about Michael Jackson's death. For the non-francophones, he's basically saying that MJ was an exceptional singer and dancer who "dug a canal" (my poor, literal translation) between black and white music.

"I've always been one of his fans. What was extraordinary about him was his ability to create bridges between black music, soul, funk and disco, and white music like pop and rock."

Thanks, Faure. And thanks to Melissa for the link.

*The store was closed because it was Sunday, not for mourning.